Panthers Increase Division Lead with a 5-4 Victory over the Washington Capitals
On a night when talk in the NHL was dominated by conference alignment, the Caps played a meaningful divisional contest which saw the Panthers climb seven points clear of their Southeast division rivals at the final buzzer.
The Panthers jumped out to an early lead thanks to rapid goals from Stephen Weiss and Mike Santorelli. Dimitry Kulikov would make it a three-goal lead on the power play inside of five minutes remaining before Mike Knuble would finish out the first period scoring for the Caps, cutting the advantage to 3-1.
In what was a promising finish to the first period with the Knuble slapshot goal through the legs of Panthers goaltender Scott Clemmensen, the outlook would not look all that promising five minutes later into the second frame.
Sean Bergenheim would net his fourth of the year on the power play on a wrap-around, beating an out-of-position Michal Neuvirth, and Weiss would follow up with his second of the game just under 10 minutes later to seemingly put the game out of reach for the Capitals.
It was not the first half of a game the Caps were looking for in sending their message to the new leaders of the Southeast Division.
Over the course of the opening two periods, the Capitals would be outshot, 24-19, and would surrender five power plays compared to just one by Florida.
If anything, maybe the Caps just needed to make a statement to finish the game.
Washington would start to increase pressure on Florida to finish the second period as the Panthers would relax with the healthy lead already displaying on the scoreboard.
Cody Eakin would break through late in the second to give the Caps some hope headed into the final period.
Brooks Laich would convert a Joel Ward centering pass just over 12 minutes into the third to give the Caps a chance if they could keep momentum. However, Nicklas Backstrom would commit a holding penalty in the offensive zone just 30 seconds after Laich brought to Capitals to within two.
While maybe not being the absolute turning point of what was once a four-goal game, the Backstrom penalty, like so many taken by the Capitals recently, could be looked as the hurdle that tripped up the Caps on their way to a hopeful comeback in Sunrise.
Jason Chimera would tip-in a John Carlson effort from the point with around two minutes to go and the Caps would threaten to level the score as time ran down, but in the end, the Panthers would walk away with both points, extending their lead to seven in the Southeast over the Caps.
While the late-game surge may be a sign of hope for Caps faithful, the at-one-time four-goal lead for the Panthers and in-game power outages for the Capitals are still proof that work needs to be done.
The Capitals will travel north of the border on Wednesday to face the team they last defeated, the Ottawa Senators.
It will be a prime opportunity to get some points from the re-building Sens, because as of Monday, first place is creeping farther away.
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